An Independence Boy Scout in search of an Eagle project met a cemetery in need of a champion.
He sits with his hands clutched in the center of the time-worn photograph, a number of star-shaped medallions pinned to his right breast.
Some 40 years earlier, Livingston Steadman had been a member of Company A of the 19th Michigan Infantry in the Union Army during the Civil War, where he served a distinguished career from September 1862 until he mustered out in June 1865.
The photograph was taken following a wedding in February 1906. By summer of 1915 Steadman was dead at the age of 73 and interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Kansas City.
Nearly a century later, Steadman’s headstone had sunk more than a foot beneath the ground, rendering his name nearly unreadable.
One day more than a month ago, Sandy Kirkendall of Strasburg, Mo., e-mailed Bruce Mathews at the Elmwood Cemetery in an effort to locate Steadman’s grave for her husband’s family, who are direct relatives of Steadman’s.
She was in luck. Not only could Mathews tell her where he was buried but that his marker had been selected as one of 15 military headstones that a Boy Scout from Independence would reset and clean as part of his Eagle project.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Kirkendall said.
It was prayer that led Quentin Herron to Elmwood Cemetery.
“I knew I didn’t want to build anything for my project,” said Herron, who is legally blind. “I wanted to do something on the theme of God, country and family, which are all important to Scouting.”
Herron is the troop guide of Troop 216 in Independence. He has 45 merit badges and has met all requirements for Eagle Scout – and he’s only 16 years (Boy Scouts have until their 18th birthday to earn the rank of Eagle).
One evening, Herron prayed for guidance. The next day, he learned of a project that Mathews, an Elmwood Cemetery board member, needed done before Memorial Day. (According to Susan Medler, who is actively involved with Elmwood’s upkeep, the cemetery is not eligible for state funding because there are no governors buried there.)
It would involve resetting and polishing the headstones of 13 Civil War veterans, one Spanish-American War veteran and one World War I veteran. Many of the stones were tarnished with lichens and grit and buried so deep it was unclear who was buried below. Mathews also wanted to compile information on each veteran for the cemetery’s Web site, www.elmwoodcem-kc.org.
Herron now knew his calling.
“Family: the research would help the families of the soldiers; Country: the project would honor veterans who bravely served their country; God: a cemetery is sacred ground,” Herron said.
Herron spent six hours researching the pasts of the 15 veterans, using genealogy databases online as well as the Genealogy and Local History Branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library to find military records, birth and death certificates and newspaper articles.
From there, Herron recruited 15 Scouts from his troop and a few Scout leaders to assist him with the project that was spread over two Saturdays.
On May 3, Herron and his team spent six hours raising the headstones, implementing crow bars, shovels and their muscles (and in one instance an SUV hitch) to loosen the stones while slowly pouring gravel into the bottom until they were raised to their original height (determined with a yard stick). Then the stones were secured in place by the stomping of feet.
On May 17, they returned with a monument conservator, who gave them direction on how to properly clean the headstones using liquid soap and water and spritzing each with a bleaching element. This task occupied a little more than three hours. Herron and company were joined for the occasion by several members of Steadman’s family, among them his great-great nephew (Sandy’s husband, Mike Kirkendall), great-great granddaughter (Ruby Sharp) and great granddaughter (Mary Stagg).
“Quentin is just a fine young man,” Sandy Kirkendall said. “We really enjoyed meeting him.”
Herron’s project ended on Memorial Day, when he was commissioned to raise and lower one of the flags at the cemetery.
But the effects of Herron’s project at the cemetery will last far longer, so long as passersby recognize the names of heroes such as Livingston Steadman.